Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus ruber

A very close relative of the Yellow-bellied and Red-naped sapsuckers, replacing them on the Pacific slope. It was considered to belong to the same species for some time, so differences in behavior have not been studied much until recently.
Conservation status Populations have probably declined somewhat, owing to cutting of forest in northwest, but the bird is still fairly numerous.
Family Woodpeckers
Habitat Coniferous forest, aspen groves; in winter, also other trees. During summer on the northwest coast, the Red-breasted Sapsucker is often in forest of hemlock or spruce. Farther south in the mountains it is found in pine forest, always with a mixture of deciduous trees such as aspen, alder, willow. In winter some move south or into lowlands, occurring in deciduous or coniferous trees.
A very close relative of the Yellow-bellied and Red-naped sapsuckers, replacing them on the Pacific slope. It was considered to belong to the same species for some time, so differences in behavior have not been studied much until recently.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, Northern
  • adult female, Southern
  • adult, Northern
Feeding Behavior

Drills tiny holes in tree bark, usually in neatly spaced rows, and then returns to them periodically to feed on the sap that oozes out. Also eats bits of cambium and other tree tissues, as well as insects that are attracted to the sap. Besides drilling sap wells, also gleans insects from tree trunks in more typical woodpecker fashion, and sallies out to catch insects in the air. Berries and fruits are eaten at all seasons.


Eggs

5-6, sometimes 4-7. White. Incubation is by both sexes (with male incubating at night and part of day), 11-15 days. Both parents feed young, bringing them insects, sap, and fruit. Young leave nest 23-28 days after hatching. Parents teach young the sapsucking habit, feed them for about 10 days after they leave nest. 1 brood per year.


Diet

Includes insects, tree sap, fruit. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including many ants (taken from tree trunks). Also regularly feeds on tree sap, and on berries and fruits.


Nesting

Courtship displays include pointing bill up and swaying from side to side. Nest: Nest site is usually in deciduous tree such as aspen, alder, cottonwood, or willow, but also in firs and other conifers. Nest cavity is often high, may be 50-60' or more above ground. Both sexes help excavate. Often uses same tree in subsequent years, but not same nest cavity.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Living in a relatively temperate climate, this is the least migratory of the sapsuckers. In Pacific Northwest, birds from interior may move to coast or southward; coastal birds may be permanent residents. Southern populations may move to lower elevations or short distance south in winter.

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Migration

Living in a relatively temperate climate, this is the least migratory of the sapsuckers. In Pacific Northwest, birds from interior may move to coast or southward; coastal birds may be permanent residents. Southern populations may move to lower elevations or short distance south in winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Soft, slurred whee-ur or mew, like call of Red-naped Sapsucker.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.